It’s curious how the majority of people live to be fairly old (77.3 years), yet we don’t know much about what it is like. As young people, we have only known our grandparents as middle-aged and beyond, and if we’re lucky enough to have the kind of grandparent with whom we enjoy spending time and have ample opportunity to do so, hardly notice the changes, so subtle are they.
So, for anyone who might stumble upon this, I’m diving headfirst into what surprised me the most about getting older. It is without bitterness that I report on what I have learned and experienced, because, if you know anything about me, I don’t have the will or energy for such endeavors. Life is far too long to be spent in misery.
When I was first married (just two weeks before I turned twenty-two), I read a book (who knows the title or the author – this was, gasp, before Goodreads and me keeping track!) that described most vividly the relationship between a married couple in their fifties. They loved each other, were quite happily married, and had sex about once a month. That last bit positively scandalized me. How could it be that such an ideal marriage could survive, even thrive, on so very little sex? It seemed so…SAD.
Fast forward nearly thirty years and I know. After so very much wonderful, magical, fun, ecstatic sex, biology intervenes. No fanfare. A lot, then a little less, and lesser still. Like the insatiability hadn’t happened at all. More often than not, Greg and I wake up, snuggle, recount our dreams, and say, “Sex?” where it would not have been a question before, just a wild tangle of bodies. Then we shrug our shoulders, sometimes chuckle, and utter something like, “Nah. Coffee, then a walk? Or walk first?”
It might, to younger eyes, seem sad or disappointing, but it is fact. And, we, quite frankly, don’t care. Because we are the people in the book. We are thirty years together, more in love than ever, more understood than ever, better friends than ever, and it is not hyperbole to say it is nearly every great adjective in the book. When there is a struggle about how much sex we are not having, it lies mostly in the feeling that we ought to want it but don’t. Like we have to live up to what we’ve seen in the movies. People nobody really knows. Because bold Colleen has asked and read. Of course I have!
In other movies, and as my own younger self, I observed the older woman who has spent a lot of time and money on nips and tucks and fillers and had the same similar shock. Why DO that? Again, it is something a body must experience. The first time my cheeks sagged from gravity was utterly devastating. One day I woke up and my face was not as it was the day prior. Very strange and a little bit frightening. The person I knew so well before was becoming someone else.
Then the changes start happening with amazing rapidity, everywhere. Pert, perky places with upside down smiles, absolutely without warning: elbows, knees, ankles. Crepe paper skin on my wrist. Dark spots on my hands, legs, arms, in the shape of a butterfly (!) on my cheek. More disbelief! More sadness! And, in my case, a few zaps with a very painful laser to make me feel better, but not, oh never, put them off permanently.
Then, I also suddenly notice, there are all these other women at the grocery, shopping for clothes, and dining in restaurants looking very much the same. Aging. Why hello! I didn’t see you until I became you. So sorry! We look about and are acknowledged like one would a tree, there but unimportant until needed for shade. The women with the nips, tucks, and fillers handle it differently and stand out a bit more for it. Please show them kindness. This life is hard.
Not too far in the future (a few years, maybe?), I will be among them, with eyelids hopefully not in a permanent state of surprise because mine have drooped the whole of my life. One day, they will have gone so far the inability to read without eye fatigue and associated headaches will finally get the better of me. Wish me luck, please.
Then there is the weight gain. I read somewhere that a body over the age of 40 gains, on average, 1.5 pounds a year. Why, you might ask? As we age, we lose muscle mass, and because muscle is a major fat burner, when there is less of it, there is more of us. Greg and I were right on target (ha!) until COVID hit, and then stress baking packed on an additional five. Blech. No need to worry, though. If you can keep a check on it as you go, dialing high calorie food and drink down and exercise up, you’ll probably not end up overweight.
That being said, coming to this truth and joining Weight Watchers has been pretty great for us. Part of the process of being on WW is knowing your WHY. Mine is strength, accountability, and awareness, and damn if it doesn’t come up every single day. I walk or work out every day, see and feel myself getting stronger (I’ve got guns!). I track everything I eat and drink every day, and the fact that each item has a different point value, sometimes wildly so, I am more and more aware of how each will affect my short and long term goals. In the before times, I ate, exercised, and hoped for the best. Now I know before I even start what the outcome will be (like already losing nearly 10 pounds). It is empowering!
To further this sense of empowerment, if you are brave and self-assured and willing to do the difficult work of standing up for what is right, life vastly improves in just about every arena. There are no obligations to the cruel and dysfunctional. People who take no responsibility for their behavior. Who don’t apologize. Who blame you. It no longer matters if they don’t know what to do (poor babies) or simply refuse, because you DO know. Mother-in-law, cousins, siblings, “friends”. These people are released. Like birds from a too small cage, a leaf on the wind. Safe journey! The lightness and freedom is a wonder of staggering proportions.
And finally, because ooooh-eeee, is this a long one or what? For all the people who told me once I turned 50 I would be a big sobbing baby because I chose not to have children, you were wrong. I still LOVE babies (that smell!) and children and even teenagers – the newness, innocence, and questioning. I am quite adept at cuddling and adventuring and especially spoiling! But, but, but, I never-ever wish they were my own. I am well content with the life I’ve chosen. It is rich and joyful and colorful and fun. I stretch my mind and body. I am loved and love in return. It really doesn’t get any better.
Hoping the same for you…